More Laws: Inadvertent sin and Mortal Sins:
In consequence of the Israelite’s testing the Lord, they are given more laws and requirements. These are given here for the consequences of inadvertent sin and gravely defiant sins. For the inadvertent sin they are to offer a “sin offering” through the priest to make atonement for their sin. On the other hand, if “anyone who sins defiantly, whether he be a native or an alien, insults the Lord, and shall be cut off from among his people.” That is, if the person knowingly, and defiantly, breaks one of the Ten Commandments, “he must be cut off.” (Num. 15:31) The punishment for breaking the Ten Commandments is either banishment from the Israelites community, or death. There is no sacrificial atonement system or forgiveness for these offenses. Breaking the Ten Commandments is, in effect, a mortal sin. It results in the person’s physical death. Today, in our Christian understanding, a mortal sin similarly results in our spiritual death. When we commit a mortal sin we are cut off spiritually from the Lord. Yet, we have it so much better than the Israelites did. When they committed a mortal sin, there was no forgiveness, no atonement, no restitution. They were simply “cut off” or killed. For us Christians, in the New Dispensation, under the Gospel of the New Covenant, God treats us very mercifully. There are no sins, even mortal sins, which we cannot be forgiven. If we turn with a contrite heart and ask forgiveness from God, particularly in the Sacrament of Confession, then God will forgive us our sins.
Death Penalty for the Sabbath Breaker, and Sunday Mass:
As an illustration of the willful breaking of the Ten Commandments and the subsequent punishment, we read the story of the Sabbath breaker. A man was caught outside the camp gathering wood on the Sabbath, so they brought him to Moses. The Lord instructs Moses to take him outside the camp and “stone him to death.” Breaking the Sabbath is a mortal sin, which results in his physical death. Consider this when we, as Christians, Catholics, fail to go to Church on Sunday and participate in the new Sabbath of Christ’s Mass. Our failure to observe the Sunday Sabbath is a mortal sin that results in our spiritual death. This is why going to Sunday Mass each week is obligatory, and not optional. It is one of the Ten Commandments: keep the Sabbath holy. Jesus changed the Sabbath from Saturday in the Old Covenant to Sunday in the New Covenant (for, as He said, He is the Lord of the Sabbath). As the Israelites broke the old Sabbath resulted in physical death, so too, when we break the new Sabbath it results in our spiritual death. Going to Mass is serious business!
Tassels on their Garments:
The Lord instructs Moses that they should put “tassels on the corners of their garments” so that “the sight of them remind you to keep all the Commandments of the Lord..” (Num. 15:39) The tassels are to be a visual reminder to keep the Commandments and not break any of them.
The Religious Rebellion of Korah:
Korah was a son of Levi, or in other words, he was a Levite priest. Korah “took two hundred and fifty Israelites who were leaders in the community, members of the council and men of note.” They stood before Moses and Aaron and said, “Enough from you! The whole community, all of them, are holy; the Lord is in their midst. Why then should you set yourselves over the Lord’s congregation?” (Num. 16:3) Korah the Levi priest was leading a religious rebellion. This rebellion is roughly akin to Martin Luther’s Protestant rebellion that there is no ministerial priesthood but all are part of the “priesthood of all believers.” In order to carry out his plans, Korah attracts the political support of Dathan and Abiram, leaders in the tribe of Reuben. He seeks political support for his religious rebellion.
The Lord’s Punishment of Korah, and Dathan and Abiram:
The Lord tells the Israelite company to withdraw from the space near “these wicked men” Korah and Dathan and Abiram. As Moses is speaking against them, “No sooner had he finished saying all this than the ground beneath them split open, and the earth opened its mouth and swallowed them and their families and all of Korah’s men and all their possessions. They went down alive to the nether world with all belonging to them; the earth closed over them, and they perished from the community.” (Num. 16:31-33) Similarly, “fire from the Lord came forth which consumed the two hundred and fifty men who were offering the incense.” (Num. 16:35)
Further Punishment of the Israelite Community:
Amazingly, many in the Israelite community were not impressed with Moses and the Lord’s supernatural punishment of Korah and his band. So, the next day, they “grumbled against Moses and Aaron, saying ‘It is you who have slain the Lord’s people.'” (Num. 17:6) The Glory Cloud suddenly appeared over the Meeting Tent, and the Lord said to Moses and Aaron, “Depart from this community, that I may consume them at once.” As the wrath of God went out upon the Israelites, Moses tells Aaron to run in amidst the community with incense offering atonement. Aaron the High Priest then stood “between the living and the dead” making atonement. Aaron’s High Priestly intercession for the people stopped the scourge, yet 14,700 people died in the divine chastisement!
Aaron’s Staff Sprouts and Blossoms:
Then, to quell any further religious rebellion, the Lord tells the Israelites to take one staff from each of the ancestral houses and their tribal princes and bring them to the Meeting Tent. The staff that sprouts shall be the Lord’s choice to lead them. “The next day, when Moses entered the Tent, Aaron’s staff, representing the house of Levi, had sprouted and put forth not only shoots, but blossoms as well, and even bore ripe almonds!” (Num. 17:23) This miraculous sign is to show that the priesthood is restricted to the Levi clan alone.